IT Innovation, Marketing | November 27, 2017

How Artificial Intelligence Can Supercharge Your Sales Team

By: Monica Mehta


(Originally published on Forbes)

It’s a frustration many sales reps know: You’re talking to a new customer about a product, and she tells you she already owns it. Or you’ve reached a critical point on a deal, and you don’t know exactly what to do next.

The underlying problem is that most sales teams are still stuck with arcane sales tools. Instead of working as trusted and knowledgeable advisors, they spend time manually extracting data from multiple systems and chasing leads that have little probability of closing. They don’t have the tools to find or navigate through valuable customer information that could make them much more effective at selling—and that could make customers much more likely to buy.

As more companies embrace digital technology, as well as artificial and adaptive intelligence (AI), a better, more productive day is on the horizon, says Michael Richter, product management director for Oracle Sales Cloud.

“AI promises to reshape how sales teams operate and interact with customers,” says Richter. “The technology makes it possible for companies to get closer to the customers, design hyper-personalized experiences, and deliver relevant and even preemptive customer engagement in real time.”

Three Key Tenets of Modern Sales Execution

To compete effectively today, sales organizations need to be proactive and employ what Richter calls “modern sales execution.” Simply put, this is data-driven, predictive selling enabled by new technologies such as AI, machine learning, and natural language processing.

“Modern sales execution is accelerating the sales cycle, bolstering pipeline generation, and significantly increasing year-over-year revenue,” says Richter. “Intelligent sales is the future, and companies that embrace it are poised for positive results at every stage of the sales process.”

What constitutes modern sales execution? Richter outlines three key capabilities every sales platform should include:

1. Access to the right set of leads coupled with customer insights. This will help sales reps drive proactive, contextual, and personalized interactions with customers, says Richter.

Such modern sales tools can help sales reps correlate leads with important customer data such as past purchases, details of interactions across channels, and the identity of competitors vying for the customer’s business. Reps can identify key decision-makers and influencers within the customer’s organization, helping them understand the identity and role of people they need to talk to. They can also access third-party data that gives them vital information, such as news about recent industry trends or a customer’s chief competitor, which helps them have more meaningful conversations with the target account.

“A modern sales system arms the rep with valuable information about customers’ interests at the inception phase of the engagement,” says Richter, “and it should make all of this information accessible through a streamlined user interface that can be easily accessed by sales reps, so that they can uncover the needed insights at any time.”

2. Guidance on the next best sales action. Prescriptive insights can help sales reps move deals forward more quickly. “What do I do next with this deal?” or “How do I improve the health of my pipeline?” are common questions that come up as sales reps work through a deal cycle—questions those reps often struggle to address.

“Prescriptive guidance on the next best sales action helps sales reps drive deals forward with confidence,” Richter says. “In addition, prescriptive insights on how a deal is progressing compared to similar deals can help reps decide how much effort to expend on one deal weighed against other opportunities, which can increase overall productivity.”

3. Prescriptions on the right product mix for the changing customer. Once reps have established contact with the customer and begun having those intelligent, personalized interactions, they need to know how to offer products and services that closely align with that customers' unique and evolving needs. This is hard work: only 40% of enterprise technology companies recently surveyed by management consulting firm McKinsey felt they thoroughly understood their customers' changing needs and expectations.

The right AI-powered tool can address that challenge by continually analyzing a customer’s environment and providing recommendations, or what Richter calls “adaptive insights,” for what would benefit that customer at any given time. Has the company recently grown through an acquisition, or had to downsize? These developments can greatly affect its optimal mix of products and services.

“Rapidly adjusting to the changing needs of the customer is key to winning customer intimacy,” Richter says.

Tools for Intelligent Selling

Thanks in part to the cloud, companies don’t have to start from scratch to build such a modern sales platform. Oracle Adaptive Intelligent Apps, for example, which are built into Oracle’s existing cloud applications, offer new technologies such as AI and machine learning to help sales professionals develop a more modern approach to sales execution.

  • Prediction engines can provide accurate next-step recommendations on sales accounts. These engines have a connection between first- and third-party data, so models for prescriptive guidance are based on a vast array of data including industry and company news.
  • “Smart call points” can pull company data from live news feeds, providing sales reps with up-to-the-minute information about accounts.
  • Contextual coaching can provide recommendations on what information reps should share next with the customer in a deal.
  • A sales visualizer can help reps figure out which opportunities to focus on to meet their quota targets. Traditionally, pipeline view is ordered by highest to lowest probability of closing, or highest to lowest price of a deal. Intelligent tools can give suggestions such as when offering certain discounts to certain customers will increase the probability of closing the deal.
  • Reps can provide feedback to hints or suggestions provided by the system, helping the system continuously learn and adapt.
  • Various Oracle Adaptive Intelligent Apps used throughout a company are connected so that, for instance, a sales manager can use Oracle’s AI to inform the human resources team about specific attributes sales is looking for in a new hire.

Sales organizations embracing AI capabilities early on can lead to higher revenues, while companies that continue to do sales the traditional way—depending on a small group of high-performing salespeople for success—have already lost, says Richter.

“The empowered customer expects 24/7 engagement at any time through any channel, but sales organizations with inefficient sales execution are grappling to meet these needs. At the same time, new technology transformations are disrupting traditional sales processes,” Richter says. “Given this backdrop, a more modern approach to sales execution is imperative if sales organizations want to stay relevant in today’s ultra-competitive environment.”

Monica Mehta (monica@mehtawriting.com) is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to Profit.

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